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6-Thought Box: A shutout goes both ways for Crew SC against Toronto

Thoughts and reactions to a scoreless draw for Columbus on the road at BMO Field.

Columbus Crew SC played to a scoreless draw with Toronto FC on Saturday at BMO Field.
Columbus Crew SC played to a scoreless draw with Toronto FC on Saturday at BMO Field.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, Columbus Crew SC went on the road to take on rival Toronto FC in the first installment of the 2016 Trillium Cup, coming home with a scoreless draw.

What was good and what was bad? Here are some thoughts on the Black & Gold's performance.

Work in progress

Last week I reflected on the result against Colorado and talked about some optimism. This week was a reminder that most paths are not straight and smooth.

Saturday showed that the post-Kei attacking era is a work in progress (though, to be honest, much of the season has left something to be desired).

I did like that Gregg Berhalter ran out the exact same lineup we saw against the Colorado Rapids. If this particular combination of players is one he thinks can put things together, there needs to be some continuity, and we got it. There was progress on the right wing, where last week the linkup was lacking. This week both Justin Meram and Harrison Afful were much more efficient in their passing.

But the attack still lacked the final product. There's still a lot of work to do.

Can Ola cut it?

Thus far I've taken a wait-and-see approach with Ola Kamara — certainly fair considering how little we have/had seen of him. I've also been fairly upbeat about the potential for the attack with him installed. But it's impossible to ignore that through two weeks that optimism has not born fruit.

Kamara was more efficient in his passing than last week, but he's getting paid to score goals, and he had only two shots, one of which was blocked. The other was this one:

It's a matter of inches and the ball is in the net. It's hard to ignore that the previous Kamara probably puts that away and that the current Kamara probably didn't get the force behind the header that he would have liked, but they're two different types of players. Still, Crew SC needs its starting striker putting his foot on the ball in dangerous areas more often, and we saw it only once against TFC.

There's still time for it to work, but the start leaves everyone asking some questions.

Set-piece success (kind of)

We've been talking about set-piece issues since, well, it's hard to count back that far. So it seems fair to bring it up when Columbus isn't eviscerated on any set pieces.

Against Toronto, the Black & Gold conceded 13 corners (hey, at least the team is staying in front of attackers) and three free kicks in the attacking third. Against Toronto, they ceded no set-piece goals and zero set-piece shots on goal.

A good amount of that had to do with TFC's poor set-piece play, where it lacked ingenuity or execution. But when you have Sebastian Giovinco standing over a dead ball it scares defenses, so consider this a step forward for Crew SC.

The center-back conundrum

I was really worried when the club cut Amro Tarek (even if it was at his request). Three center backs on a roster? That's not much of a safety net. On Saturday we saw why.

When Gaston Sauro went out with an injury in the 34th minute, suddenly there was a problem. Tyson Wahl was not available due to a concussion suffered in practice, which left Crew SC with ... apparently Rodrigo Saravia. The defensive midfielder came in and played center back for the rest of the game. It wasn't a disaster, but there were some nervy moments, and I, for one, am certainly concerned about the liklihood he gets exposed if forced to play there for any length of time.

There's no word yet on how long Wahl or Sauro will be out.

[NOTE: While this was being written, it was announced that Sauro will be out for 4 months.]

It's clear that Columbus has to address center back during the summer window. Sauro has been a great addition to the club when he's on the field, but in less than a year he's missed time due to three separate injuries. That's a problem. Part of being an impact player is ability, and part of it is showing up. He's been inconsistent in the second part, and now CCSC may be forced to play a rookie midfielder at one of the most important spots on the field.

Here's one moment where Crew SC got lucky it didn't concede. This may or may not be Saravia's fault, as it's unclear if Cory Ashe communicated to him what was going on. But it certainly points to some questions about having a guy with just a handful of starts with the team and a rookie out of position both in the back line. But you can definitely see that once Giovinco is in behind him, Saravia turns and looks in Ashe's direction (he also glances over his shoulder earlier and seems to know what's going on over there).

Also, what a great run from Giovinco. Wil Trapp and Saravia both step to Mo Babouli, and the Italian perfectly times his run to take advantage. Notice Giovinco with the sharp diagonal run from the right and Babouli cutting across from the left. This is precisely what I'd wanted to see from Kamara and Federico Higuain (or an attacking left winger) and did not.

Clark came up big

There was the obligatory wilt-under-pressure-and-fail-to-clear-the-ball moment that nearly gave Giovinco a goal on a platter, but otherwise Steve Clark was a big reason Columbus was able to get a point from this game.

In my pregame piece I wrote how one of the only ways you can hope to stop Giovinco is to have your goalkeeper come up huge. Clark did. He continues to be an outstanding shot stopper, irrespective of his flaws.

First there was this, in the 36th minute:

Then there was this one, in the 80th minute:

Nicely done, Steve.

Grinding along

Last week was an acceptable point after a week of disruption against the top team in the league.

So what was this week?

Well, it's a point on the road against a team widely expected to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference. It's hard to complain about that. But there was a certain emptiness felt from the performance and another attacking blank. Under normal circumstances, this is a great point, but after a lackluster start to the season, there's going to come a point where three points are necessary.

We're getting closer to that point.